As the sun hits your slitted eyes and lifts you out of a dream you had very much been enjoying, your espresso machine suddenly sputters to life and has a cup ready before you’ve even brushed your teeth. After your daily dose of caffeine, you head to the gym where the calories you burn are kept track of without any work on your part. Finally, a custom motion gesture relieves your curiosity as to what song is playing at the supermarket by activating your smartphone’s Shazam app in a matter of seconds.
These are just some of the features the Kiwi Move sports in a promotional YouTube video released in early January.
But Ashley Beattie believes that the brief clip just skims the surface of the device’s capabilities.
The 32 year-old DeGroote alumnus envisions a bright future for the miniscule piece of wearable technology that his startup, Kiwi Wearables, recently displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The small trapezoid shaped product drew rapturous acclaim from PC Magazine, who dubbed it the “most underrated product” shown at the renowned event that hosted industry heavyweights like Sony, LG and Samsung.
Upon completing his Bachelor of Commerce at McMaster in 2004, Beattie took on a sales position at a large consumer technology company. Looking to freshen up his skillset and try a different route, Beattie attained his MBA through DeGroote’s accelerated program in 2007 before joining the Canadian Naval Reserve. Moving up the ranks — as well as to cities like Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec City — Beattie obtained a position as projects manager.
After finishing one of his contracts, Beattie launched a social network strategy company that admittedly “didn’t really work out.”
The reason the startup tanked was Beattie’s inability to code. To remedy that, Beattie enrolled himself in an intensive course at Toronto’s Bitmaker Labs in the summer of 2012.
“It was a challenge. You’re coding a lot. But if you write ten thousand lines of code, you’re good. It’s like that ten thousand hours rule, you may not be excellent but you’ll definitely be able to do it,” he said.
One thing led to another and he found himself participating in a hackathon competition called AngelHack in Toronto with a group of four others last year. In a marathon nineteen-hour session, they created a device that could warn its wearers of an oncoming heart attack.
Beattie says the group recognized the chemistry they shared and quickly came together outside the competition as Kiwi Wearables. Their natural first step was to try and improve their AngelHack device, but they quickly ran into a wall when they realized a medical gadget like theirs would have to clear a lot of regulations before it could hit the market.
They quickly scrapped that plan and focussed their attention on producing a more broadly useable piece of wearable technology.
Weighing one ounce and barely wider than a die, the Kiwi Move fits that bill to a tee. Though miniscule, the device packs a punch. With 2GB of storage, it is filled with six sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, thermometer). To connect to the Internet and smartphones, the Kiwi Move boasts Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The battery life is also impressive, clocking in at five days.
Beattie says the current Kiwi Move available for pre-order on their site has gone through as many as five or six different iterations. In this regard, he says input from industry peers and consumers alike has been invaluable.
To illustrate his point, Beattie pulls out his iPhone on which he has stored some photos of the previous models. He laughingly points out an early mock-up, which resembles a clunky computer mouse, and another that looks like a cigarette lighter.
“We still had to ask people whether they liked these designs or not. You’ll get lucky sometimes by building the right thing for the right person, but that doesn’t always happen. You’re best off going onto the street and asking people what they think.”
Although they happily took advice, Beattie says the design elements were limited by their goal of creating an unobtrusive device.
“Our theory was to make it as small as possible so that you could fit it onto your collar, and also wear it inconspicuously because no one wants to be wearing a big gangly thing.”
In response to fragmented opinions from consumers as to how they would like to use the device, the Kiwi Wearables team developed a unique foundation for the initial six apps that shall come with the Move: Insights, Gestures, Sound, Lock, and Move.
Revolving around the notion of “when/do” the device will respond to certain triggers with a reaction.
For instance: when you leave your house, the device can be triggered to keep track of the amount of steps you take until you return.
The initial capabilities may seem mundane enough, but the fact that they are all contained within one device is ground breaking.
“It is up to us and the developer community to fill in that ‘do’ side because the ‘when’ is prefixed to being device-centric…Then it can become something you could use for anything,” said Beattie.
From the very get-go of their July launch, the apps shall be available for both iOS and Android.
Beattie stressed the importance of the Move being compatible with both Apple and Google devices.
“The developer community is divided between each…if you make [the app] as widespread as possible, you can satisfy a really large number of people. While there are intricacies to both which makes it harder or easier to do either, it’s in your best interests to at least have it in your plan to be able to support both.”
Asked if he and his team envisioned a target demographic when building the Move, Beattie said, “When we first started marketing our product, we thought our ideal customer was between twenty-five and thirty-five, technologically-adept, and an early-adopting kind of person. And that has largely persisted.” But Beattie also added that while the demographic may remain small, they all have various uses for the device.
As the July launch steadily approaches, Beattie says that while he and his team aren’t setting their sights too far ahead, their line of work puts a premium on looking to the future.
“Every startup will have a challenge. You have always got to be delivering in the present and also working on the thing that people want in a year. Otherwise, what’s going to happen is that you will grown your company and because there are other companies doing what you’re doing, you will take a stumble. You have to constantly innovate.”
Though the July launch has their full attention, Beattie also added they were building a set of functionalities that will help developers build more apps than is standard to avoid being eclipsed by other companies.
Beattie also added they have no plans of taking off from their Toronto headquarters to California, citing the burgeoning ecosystem developing around wearable technology in the GTA.
“The GTA is where you want to be for wearables out of anywhere else in the world. In Toronto, there are six amazing wearable technology companies and we all play off each other. As our tide rises in Toronto, there’ll be people who will be coming here because the cost of living in Silicone Valley is hideous.”
Beattie was lavish in his praise of the students that Canada is producing.
“You have Waterloo, U of T, and don’t discount McMaster who has produced a lot of grads who have done some amazing things. There is so much talent in this area that if you’re leaving [for the Valley] you’re not doing it because there isn’t potential here.”
To those hesitant to take the jump into the entrepreneurial waters, Beattie offers a piece of wisdom: “Startups aren’t always, fun but they’re always exciting.”